Sunday, April 4, 2010

India Un-Curried II: Heading Out

Life is short. My father’s life was nearly summarily ended earlier this year by a ceiling fan. It fell on to his desk and smashed his laptop. He had stepped away from the desk seconds before. I was not ready for him to be gone. Not that I would ever be nor do we ever get enough time with our loved ones, but you know what I mean. I had a lot to still ask him, to hear from him. Family stories, stories about my home town, Poona, about my grandparents, about his childhood and the food he ate growing up. There is no one else I know who understands Maharashtra, the people, the language, the culture, as my father does.

This also perhaps explains my impatience to make this trip now, even if it means a month away from home and family, and being in India during the hideously hot summertime when you have to structure your day to be indoors during the hottest hours.

The upside is that it is mango season. I am looking forward to those soft skinned, sunset colored and perfumed Alphonso mangoes, which both Madhur Jaffrey and I (among 1/2 billion other Indians) agree are the most delicious mangoes in the world. I know too that I will meet some wonderful people on this adventure, hear some great family stories (my family’s and those of others) and cook in interesting places, like a 200 year old courtyard home. A book shop owner in my home town is also arranging a book signing for me, which will be exciting!

First a pause in Singapore, that confluence of Asian foods and culture. My friend Leena lives there. We have known each other since we were 20 and went to journalism school together in Bombay. I am looking forward to spending time with her and the family -- her 7 year old daughter and her 2 year old son whom I have not yet met. I am hoping too for a taste of the Singaporean specialty, chili crab and Kaya Toast (thin slices of toast topped with a spread made from eggs, sugar, coconut, flavored with the distinctive essence of pandanus or screwpine) which I ate the last time we visited Leena 5 years ago.

Last time we missed trying Singapore's dim sum so I am determined not to make that mistake again. And I also have a recommendation from another local friend to try fish head curry. I am not big on heads and eye balls but I’m game to try them at least once, not least because I am interested in how Indian culinary influences have impacted other local cuisines.

To that end, Leena has set up a meeting for me with a Eurasian chef who combines European, East Asian and Indian flavors in his cooking. I am fascinated with how food impacts history and how history and migration have evolved the way we eat around the globe. Let’s see what Chef Quentin has to share.

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